The First One

Sintra Nichols - Brazil


August 23, 2018

Welcome everyone!


I expect the bulk of my audience for this blog to be Minnesotans or Wisconsinites from whom I’m not yet separated by thousands of miles; those I don’t quite miss yet because I see them at family functions, at work, on social media, etcetera. There’s not much to miss yet. I live in the house in the city in the state in the country where I grew up without a terrible amount of change or movement. Most people I know my age are heading off to a college in the US after the long and stressful process of applying, being accepted, picking a roommate, and finally moving into a dorm. I heard the complaints as well as excitement all through my senior year and I tried to relate but all I could really do was console or congratulate with as much empathy as I could muster. In the process, I also perfected my response to the question, “So where are you going again next year?” I won’t recite my response now because if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve heard it on multiple occasions.

 

I’m still not great at explaining how “the program I’m going through” isn’t college, but a kind of pre-college, post-high school limbo gap year… Learning experience? Trip? JoUrNeY??? It’s honestly different every time. Then comes the, “Wow that’s so cool! Why did you decide to do something like that?” A lengthened version of my response I shall provide here for all who would like to know:

 


I left my junior year the most uninspired I had ever been. It wasn’t necessarily through the fault of my educators, my peers, my family, or really anything I’m able to explain because it was both nothing and everything all at once. It was a nasty state of mind that expanded and festered into something that told me I could be successful, but gave me zero motivation to follow through. I felt like all my attempts to escape were too overwhelming to handle but somehow also not nearly good enough. This feeling led me to a less-than-stellar academic performance in my penultimate year of high school which neither I nor my parents were accustomed to. I still sometimes wonder if that year reflected the “real” me and if I had just gotten lucky back when it seemed I was actually “smart”. Though I have since revised my definition of both intelligence and smartness to umbrella domains far beyond only the isolating walls of high school, rendering these intrusive thoughts nearly extinct.

 

Then the summer after my year of depressing apathy, I decided (astonishingly) that feeling so trapped was NOT a good thing if I wanted any kind of success in the rest of high school, in college, in a career, etcetera. An insane thought, I know.

 

The first step to changing my path was taking accountability. I had watched enough of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares to know that the first step to fixing a problem is realizing that “YOU ARE THE DAMN PROBLEM!” So I sat down and thought about what I wasn’t doing that I should be doing.

 

I mentioned feeling uninspired. I needed inspiration. Inspiration comes from advancing one’s passions. To me, that didn’t mean I should do ONLY what I love doing, but that I should at least connect what I was spending my time on TO what I love. My passions, I then realized, were so unimaginably far removed from my huge, white bread, public school, that my exhaustingly homogenous environment seemed to be sabotaging me. How was I supposed to truly foster my love of languages and travel in Stillwater, Minnesota where there are like eight non-white people and only one language won’t draw you weird amounts of attention? I couldn’t. UNLESS I used my aforementioned loophole and learned how to connect school to the stuff I actually wanted to spend my time on!

 

It almost never came easily: mindfully going into every day thinking, “Okay this sucks hard right now but it won’t forever because the harder you work now, the more you’ll love your life later.” I had to put aside my contempt for the pitiful evolution of the American school system, which actually did come easily after picturing myself trying to explain why it was indeed high school which failed ME to a college interviewer. Laughable.

 

My daily process became not going home after track or Nordic to learn Norwegian or Indonesian or whatever language inspired me that day, but going home to (ew) do homework with some (many) breaks to do what I really wanted to do. It may have been 2 AM-grade homework sometimes but it was done to the best of my ability.

 

That’s how I got through my senior year of high school. I didn’t become the perfect student just because I got accepted to some hard-to-explain but wonderful gap year program. I didn’t become a perfect student at all actually because what even is that? I did, however, become someone who can balance her passions with her obligations, or at least make a darn good attempt.

 

So on this my third-to-last day in the Midwest for a long, long time, I’ll simply make an attempt to save you from “learning the hard way” by encouraging you to work hard so you can play harder and all that cheesy jazz because otherwise, life becomes truly meaningless and that’s not a fun rut to be in. Wish me luck packing.

Sintra Nichols